Friday, May 25, 2012

2012 Tony Predictions: Choreography and Direction

The time has come.  With a little over two weeks left until the Tony Awards ceremony on June 10th, it’s time for me to get out my crystal ball and predict who will be the winners and losers on Broadway’s big night. But before I start prognosticating, let me mention a couple of caveats: 
1) I haven’t actually seen all of the nominated productions, as I ran out of time and money long before I ran out of shows to see.  But given my 82% success rate in predicting the nominees, I think it’s safe to say I have some idea what I’m talking about. 
2) These are my predictions of who will win, not who should win, which is an important distinction to make.  Like any entertainment award, a fair amount of politics comes into play when determining the winners, especially when a large number of Tony voters are producers themselves and therefore biased.  Which is why in every category, I will pick the nominee who will win and also point out the person I think should win, which is not necessarily the same individual.  Any discrepancies will be addressed in the body of the article.
Now that we’ve laid out the ground rules, let’s get started!

Best Choreography

Nominees:  Rob Ashford, Evita; Christopher Gattelli, Newsies; Steven Hoggett, Once; Kathleen Marshall, Nice Work If You Can Get It

The chances of Evita winning a Best Choreography Tony are almost zero, despite some stunning dance sequences that managed to convert this Rob Ashford naysayer into a fan.  The overall production and especially its star were simply too disappointing to too many people.  And while certainly innovative and theatrical, I don’t see Steven Hoggett’s work on Once triumphing over the “real” dancing in the other nominated shows (that show’s playbill credits him with “movement” rather than full-fledged “choreography).

Kathleen Marshall has won this award three times before, most recently for the still running Anything Goes, which automatically makes her a major contender.  In my opinion, she is one of the most consistent and creative choreographers working today, and her musical staging for Nice Work is the only thing about that particular show which isn’t imminently predictable.  But her recent win combined with the lack of a true showstopper in Nice Work’s – nothing in it comes close to the heights achieved by her “Anything Goes” or “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” – could lead voters to give someone else a moment in the limelight.

That someone would be Christopher Gattelli and his work on Newsies.  The one thing against him is the fact that while superbly executed, a lot of the choreography lacks innovation.  Most of the routines look like combinations you would find in an admittedly advanced jazz class, a problem which kept Memphis from even being nominated two years ago.  But the Tony committee will surely want to give Newsies some recognition for becoming one of the spring’s biggest success stories, and I predict two-time Tony nominee Christopher Gattelli will become Tony-winner Christopher Gattelli on June 10th.

Will Win: Christopher Gattelli
Should Win:  Kathleen Marshall

Best Direction of a Play

Nominees:  Nicholas Hytner (One Man, Two Guvnors); Pam MacKinnon (ClybournePark); Mike Nichols (Death of a Salesman); Roger Rees and Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher)

After years of Broadway being dominated by British imports, I think the Tony voters are going to finally start rewarding Americans for their contributions to the legitimate theatre.  Which means Nicholas Hytner and his work on One Man, Two Guvnors is out.  I must also disqualify Pam MacKinnon, as I think most of the credit for that show’s success is being given to Bruce Norris’ script and its stellar acting ensemble.

Which leaves Mike Nichols and the combined talents of Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, all of whom were integral to the success of their respective shows.  Death of a Salesman is an acknowledged classic, but Nichols’ direction makes the entire production gel in a way that justifies the existence of this latest revival.  While everyone recognizes that the inventive staging has been the key to Peter and the Starcatcher’s success, I have to give the edge to Nichols.  He is an industry giant who commands an enormous amount of respect (see his seven previous Best Direction Tonys as proof), Salesman has become one of the theatrical events of the spring.  Rees and Timbers could score an upset, but I find it highly unlikely.

Will & Should Win:  Mike Nichols

Best Direction of a Musical

Nominees:  Jeff Calhoun, Newsies; Kathleen Marshall, Nice Work If You Can Get It; Diane Paulus, Porgy and Bess; John Tiffany, Once

If Newsies had opened in April instead of March, I would be predicting a virtual sweep for Disney’s tale of dancing newsboys, but just enough time has passed for the theatrical community to realize that for all of its merits, there is simply better work being done this year.  Direction awards tend to be higher-minded than some of the other categories, and Newsies simply isn’t up to that standard.  Similarly, Marshall’s serviceable job on Nice Work is by no means her best, and for a woman more respected as a choreographer than a director it simply isn’t enough to net her a Best Director trophy.

John Tiffany is the clear front runner here.  Once is the most nominated production of the season, and also the most artistically daring.  Without the delicately realized mood and pacing provided by Tiffany’s direction, Once would collapse under the weight of its own ambitions, instead of emerging as arguably the best new musical of the season. 

I think Diane Paulus has done sensational work on Porgy, and few directors have her gift of making the stagecraft behind the blocking seem so completely organic.  She has successfully brought the show into the 21st century, and made a classic opera seem real and immediate in a way I would not have thought possible.  Unfortunately for Paulus, there are enough purists who cannot accept Porgy as anything other than a 4-hour opera, and while I loved her interpretation I can understand why some people would feel that way.  For a production whose Broadway prospects were once in question – thanks to that infamous letter from Mr. Sondheim – Paulus should consider her inclusion among this year’s nominees a victory in itself.  Without the burden of preconceived notions, Tiffany was free to do whatever he wished with Once, and the results are totally transfixing and definitely Tony worthy.

Will & Should Win:  John Tiffany (although Paulus is a very close second)

That’s it for now, but check back throughout the next two weeks for more of my 2012 Tony predictions!

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